The Frailty of Friendships Abroad

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Written by  September 22, 2016

The hardest part of travel is saying goodbye. 

I feel as though the impermanence of living abroad and feeling so very alone go hand-in-hand. I travelled some of Laos and met people I could dance shamelessly with, share my most intimate secrets with and open up to. I found myself letting go of the tough facade that I so desperately cling to in the presence of strangers.

But what I am to do? Visit all of these people over the course of my life, flying from Milan, to Madrid, to Malibu, to once again hold these ancient strangers I had fallen for over the course of my travels? No, I cannot do that. At best, I can occasionally send a quick reminder via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram: Hey, how are you? I miss you so much!

I sit here, getting low-key tipsy off charming, personalized wine bottles on an expensive flight back to the States. I am incredibly saddened to the point of unnecessary, liquor-induced tears shamelessly letting themselves sting the back of my blackened, tired eyes at this seemingly obvious fact—most everyone I meet, whether in Thailand or Southeast Asia, I will never see again.

My BAC is seemingly above .08 percent at this point, leaving me stranded to my 56G window seat. I imagine myself failing my field sobriety test as the stewardess shakes her head back and forth in disappointment as I spin limply during my walk and turn. I return to this blog, as going to the bathroom has become a hopeless cause until further notice. Where were we?

I may never again cross paths with the Swedish girl I spent hours talking with late into the Laos night, sitting on the jarring, bug-ridden floor of our quaint bungalow.

I may never again be entangled with the most desirable man I ever came in contact with while travelling northern Thailand, whose humour and charm kept me wanting more long after we parted ways.

I may never again dance with the teacher from the Netherlands, who was so barefaced and bold I simply could not advert my attention elsewhere when we were in the same room together.

Sure, I will see all of their occasional social media posts, updating the cyber world of their latest endeavours and flood of photos from wherever it is they find themselves. But me, I will still be in Bangkok, perpetually sweating from God knows where in my overpriced apartment, teaching Thai students who want nothing more than to escape the very walls of my classroom.

Where is the fun in that?

I was told by a co-worker that as soon as teaching is no longer fun, that the endeavour of teaching abroad is simply not worth it. This job was supposed to benefit not only my students, but myself as well. As self-centred as I may sound, I was supposed to be learning and growing simultaneously, alongside my wide-eyed students, who oftentimes have no clue what it is that I am talking about.

I may never again be entangled with the most desirable man I ever came in contact with, whose humour and charm kept me wanting more long after we parted ways.

I obviously did not go on this venture for selfish reasons alone or else I would have left months ago. I want to stay. I want to help. But between losing friends because of distance alone, and an obvious lack of desire from my students to simply be in the same room as me, I find myself disheartened, sad and quite frankly, ready to go elsewhere. I want to be wanted, even if it is only in the slightest. I want to stay in Thailand, but the stability, or lack thereof, scares me into thinking about the various paths of lives I could venture down instead.

In Kansas resides my stable group of amazing friends, who still constantly remind me that I am missed. Around the globe, I am also constantly reminded via social media of my newly found friends whom I may never come face-to-face with again. Can you compare the two?

Should I stay in a place I do not want to be in (i.e. right-winged Kansas) in order to keep a stable friend group, or do I let go of that idea entirely and continue working abroad, knowing that everyone I meet will become nothing more than a rotting memory and an additional Facebook friend?

Let me add that I would love nothing more than to feel like I belong in Kansas. It is not as if I think I am the “cool kid” for quitting my life and moving to Asia. There are way too many amazing and talented people I love back in Lenexa, Kansas to even think I am, in one way or another, better than anyone. If I could feel content the way I do here back in my hometown, I would go back. But oftentimes, I felt like the outsider looking in. I felt like I did not belong there, or somehow entirely misunderstood. That does not make me feel like I am better or more adventurous. . .just different. 

I was talking with my friend the other day about how travelling and working abroad “back in the day” (the '80s, '90s, what have you) was so entirely different than it is today. You only connected with the people you truly cared about or really felt strongly for, because their means of connecting were limited to prehistoric letter-writing or becoming entwined with a home phone chord in order to hear the voice of a long-lost friend. In other words, it took some effort.

In a world where it is so easy to keep in touch, am I naive to think that all of these people are such great friends, just because we are able to connect so easily through the technology offered to us? I do not think so. I think we are lucky to have such means of getting to know one another, allowing us to stay updated on people we will never see again.

Whether you are working, living or volunteering abroad, you are going to come in contact with and fall for some pretty amazing people. You are also going to lose all these people, watching them fly back to wherever it is they want to call home next.

If I do ever come across the money or means to visit each and every meaningful person in my life I have met while living abroad, I would have more than a handful of countries and states to visit. That being said, I am so in.

As I sit here on this lovely Emirates flight, blog post seemingly coming to an end, I let myself succumb to the thick fog of sleep lurking and waiting somewhere in-between my temples.

Disclaimer: Canadian Press style edits made post-hangover.

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Kelly Iverson

Although Dorothy was quite content, Kansas was no place like home for native Kelly Iverson. After studying abroad, she returned with an itch for travel no amount of scratching could alleviate. She lives in Bangkok, Thailand, where she teaches English.

Website: https://www.facebook.com/KellyJIverson/

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